Documentary Techniques


When representing culture, moving images have to deal with a forced selection. The elements that get through the lens of a camera, are thought t be significant both to create consistency of the film or to uncover a novelty hidden in foreignness. In representing culture details become essential, hence the attachments of people and objects are contextualised as means and ends of the culture itself but also re-contextualised in the screen.

Encapsulating an item into a frame making of it a representation, which, to quote Baudrillard, deprives the image of any original reference to the real, linking it to an hyperreal that is the system of reference created by the man with a camera. M Michalski and J. Gow, distinguished the techniques of current affairs films, which are short in format and episodic, and long-format documentaries, to describe how the medium alters the relation image-understanding-interpretation.

Among the long format documentaries, they identify the category of ‘drama documentary’ especially because this format permits the complication of issues with fast-cutting, jump editing, opinions and sound that emphasise mood and eventually re-create reality.  Louis Theroux, for example in ‘ My Scientology’ attempted at re-creating, with proper with Actors on settings the characters and the processes of the Scientology Church. Juxtaposing elements of fiction and reality, he under covered some of the most secret methods of the religious corporation; in faithful objectivity, such details that would have otherwise remained hidden.  Moreover, in this visual essay, Theroux was recorded by members of Scientology, a glitch that allowed him to build on the awkwardness conveyed by the slightly distorted interviewees with problematic ex-members while intervowing the story into an authoritative Whole. Such technique goes under the name of the Lapping technique which costructs the story through the mouths of the protagonists,thus  tech builing  on the credibility of the parts to create a detailed and fragmented narrative.

On the feeling of awkwardness, dominating the critique of documentaries upon the depiction of the ‘Other’, has speculated the architect Rem Koolhaas. In Lagos, he produced an ‘interactive’ documentary where aerial shoots are juxtaposed with scenes from the streets and authentic views into the public buildings and private houses at street level. Without a storyteller, Koolhass leaves the image speak for itself and with long immobile shots it reveals all the ambiguities hidden in details of a society and the relation between people and space. Besides aiming at bringing the subjects and the audience’s experience together, the reality of a foreign city represents itself according to that is made up of people and spaces, truly understandable only with the direct experience of it.


Baudrillard, J. (1983). Simulations. 1st ed. New York City, N.Y., U.S.A.: Semiotext(e), Inc.

YouTube. (2017). My Scientology Movie. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2017].

Michalski, M. and Gow, J. (2007). War, image and legitimacy. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

YouTube. (2017). Lagos Wide and Close Online 1. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2017].

Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: › Submarine Channel › Videos [Accessed 4 Feb. 2017].


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